Mike Faber and Robert Oakshott: two who helped save Zambia millions of pounds on the day it was born
Kenneth Kaunda had a penchant for Christian/Socialist advisers during the build-up to Zambia's independence. Two of them helped save that copper-rich country a fortune on the day it was born on October 24, 1964. Picture shows Robert Oakshott.
By TREVOR GRUNDY
HISTORIANS examining the de-colonisation process have been disinclined to examine the motives and individual psychologies of the well-educated Europeans who attached themselves to African causes and leaders in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Dr Kenneth Kaunda, born in 1924 the son of a Presbyterian mission station worker and President of Zambia from 1964 to 1991, had a penchant for white advisers, especially when they reflected his own strong Christian/Socialist beliefs.
Two well educated, upper class ex-public schoolboys who went on to play important roles during the early days of that copper rich but multi-national dominated country, were Robert Oakeshott and Mike Faber.
“Inspiring, infuriating, unworldly yet profoundly concerned about his fellow beings, Robert Oakeshott defied easy categorisation ,” said the writer of his obituary in The Times in July 2011.
The other, Mike Faber, I met recently at his home in Sussex, England.
Now in his early 80s, Mike is fit and active and bears a slight resemblance to the older Hemingway.
He laughs easily and told me as we sat down to a simple lunch at a village pub that some Europeans in Northern Rhodesia in the late 1950s and early 1960s regarded him and Oakeshott as a couple of Marxist revolutionaries. “They may have been surprised when they found out that Robert went to Tonbridge (an exclusive boys’ public school in Kent, southern England) and that I went to Eton.”
Mike’s memories of his early days in Africa are sharp. “After Eton (England’s most exclusive private school) I went to University and in 1956 visited Southern Rhodesia for the first time to visit my wife’s brother. We stayed and loved the country but found some of the politicians a bit hard to tolerate. But there were great times. Doris Lessing (now in her 90s and one of the world’s best respected novelists) came to some of the parties at Robert’s house in Lusaka, a place called The Stoep. We were young and some of the parties were quite wild.”
Public politics as well as private parties were wild in those days.
In 1956, North and South Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively) were tied to Nyasaland (Malawi) in the British-inspired Central African Federation (CAF) which started in 1963 and ended in 1963.
Europeans in Southern Rhodesia were keen to draw closer to Northern Rhodesia because of that country’s copper wealth.
Blacks in Northern Rhodesia were nervous about economic union between three very different territories and feared the spread northwards of Southern Rhodesia’s quasi- apartheid system.
Whites who wanted to see a one man one vote system in the CAF were sometimes physically attacked, spat on in the street or dubbed Marxist, Leninist, Maoist or more frequently “members of the BBC –Bloody British Communists.”
The respected Africanist Professor Terence Ranger of Oxford University was hurled into a swimming pool in Salisbury after expressing his concern about the future of the white race in Central and Southern Africa because of white arrogance and legalized racial discrimination.
Doris Lessing was a member of the Southern Rhodesia Communist Party,which was in those days the world’s smallest. She says that she joined to free-up mentally and to meet interesting people, many of them Lithuanian Jews who were as different from average white settlers as chalk is from cheese.
ROBERT OAKESHOTT was the son of Sir Walter Oakeshott, a distinguished public school headmaster who became the rector of Lincoln College, Oxford. Robert cut a quintessentially eccentric English figure in Lusaka as the territory moved from colonial status towards independence almost immediately after the end of CAF.
After military service he went up to Balliol College, Oxford, where he read classics. After university, he became a journalist writing first for the provincial daily newspaper the Sunderland Echo in Northern England and then the Financial Times, serving that important paper first in Paris and then Southern Rhodesia and later on South Africa.
Just before 1964, both Oakeshott and Faber went to work for Kenneth Kaunda who was then the undisputed leader of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) and Prime Minister designate in the Ministries of Finance and the Office of Development Planning.
The Minister for Finance was the well-educated, personable young African from the minority Lozi ethnic group in Western Northern Rhodesian, Arthur Wina.
He had little no experience in the world of finance and all government departments were run by well-meaning, hard working British colonial civil servants. They were scrupulously fair and but staggeringly unimaginative when it came to understanding face upwards cards on nationalist tables.
Oakeshott and Faber – so sympathetic to the African cause – made enemies aplenty.
The two devised a scheme that allowed the new government to cheaply acquire the rights of nearly all mineral royalties that had previously belonged to the British South Africa Company (BSAC) which had expected to sell them to the new state of Zambia for abut £35 million.
After the implementation of the Oakeshott/Faber/ Kaunda/Wina strategy – it was supported by most of the British press, especially the Financial Times and the Economist – the BSA Company agreed to accept a mere £4million, half of which was contributed by the British Government.
AT THE END of Federation in December 1963, Northern Rhodesia’s Ministry of Finance had significantly enhanced financial resource
All eyes were on Kaunda and his unknown and untested team in Lusaka.
That was not because politicians, businessmen and international financiers in Washington or London had a soft spot for black nationalists. It was because this was the height of the Cold War. American and British politicians were anxious that the new men and women in Lusaka responsible for running the copper industry did not respond to siren voices from Moscow or Peking.
Just over a decade later in Lusaka in 1975 when I was the Financial Times correspondent in Zambia, a prominent American economist said to me: ”In those days, we didn’t give a hoot what African leaders said about loving Marx and Lenin as long as they stayed within the West’s economic magic circle. Almost to a man, they did.”
One of Mike Faber’s first actions was to write a detailed, authoritative paper for the ministry arguing that the previous (colonial) Northern Rhodesian government’s approach to recovering the mineral rights was entirely wrong.
Instead of estimating the present value of the royalties were they to be received for the balance of their life, the new policy Faber proposed was to question the legality of the rights and to criticize earlier British governments for allowing the BSA Company to pocket the royalties, even despite the fact that Colonial Office records showed that the British government knew that the mineral rights in question did not cover some of the most productive and profitable mines on the Northern Rhodesian Copperbelt.
Not only did some senior Colonial Official officials know this but they went out of their way to keep such information unavailable and unknown to the new Zambian Government.
It was this story of past lack of attention to detail about the activities of a vast multi-national company in Africa that gave power to a 33-page White Paper (written by Robert Oakshott) and published on the eve of the last round of negotiations on the terms of Zambia’s Independence Constitution.
It won the support of the Financial Times and of much other important opinion in Britain and which eventually led to the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, instructing his Commonwealth Secretary that the BSA Company should be told that they would have to settle for what they could get.
A long-standing argument between Britain and UNIP about who should pay what to the BSA Company for the unexpired portion of that company’s mineral rights was unresolved even as tea cups rattled as a garden party at Government House hours before Independence on the evening of 23 October 1964.
In 1962, the BSA Company had worldwide investments of around £55 million but only one sixth of that amount in Northern Rhodesia, where it earned very large and mainly untaxed royalties remitted every year to shareholders in London.
Economists attached to UNIP, and Arthur Wina’s Ministry of Finance, estimated that the country could lose as much as £100 million over the next quarter century because, under the terms of long-standing contracts, the BSA Company would receive annual royalties until 1986.
Meanwhile, an internal minute prepared by Rab Butler, the Conservative Secretary of State at the Central Africa Office in London before the 1964 election in Britain, indicated British interest in discussions. It said that the British Government hoped that the Northern Rhodesian Government’s aim would be to conclude an “honorary business transaction” which would launch Zambia’s honesty and good name onto the international market place.
The memo added: ”The more responsible UNIP leaders are anxious to avoid having to expropriate the mineral royalties as they realize the damage this could do to their reputation as a responsible government. On the other hand they have to reckon with their more militant rank and file, many of whom would favour outright seizure.”
In his book The High Price of Principles, Richard Hall (the first editor of The Times of Zambia who was also the Zambian correspondent for The Observer in London) tells how shortly before Independence, even Kaunda was prepared to pay the BSA Company £50 million spread over until 1986 in equal yearly payments of £2, 250,000 tax free a year in London. Some in UNIP believed that the entire £50 million should be raised immediately and paid to the BSA Company to settle the matter once and for all.
“At this point, a long and detailed study of the BSA Company was made available by a local journalist,” Hall wrote.
Hall was close to Kaunda so no prizes for guessing who it was.
He went on – “It was circulated around the Cabinet and the revelations about the frail foundations upon which the general rights had been based produced a dramatic change in attitudes. The idea of paying £50 million, or anything like it, was jettisoned.”
Richard Hall, who went on to write an interesting book about the relationship between the giant conglomerate LONRHO and certain African politicians called My Life with Tiny – a Biography of Tiny Rowland, published by Faber & Faber, London, in 1987, said that in the late 1950s Arthur Wina had clustered around him several young white economists of radical tendencies. “They were overjoyed by the way events were turning out I this confrontation with a capitalist dinosaur (the BSA Company). It was the fulfillment of undergraduate dreams.”
Asked in September 1963 how much Zambia would now pay for the mineral rights – at this time they were providing the BSA Company with £1 million a month tax free and with over 20 more years to run – Wina replied: “Nothing!”
Hall wrote: “The Zambians denied all responsibility and if Britain wanted to pay compensation that was her affair. After all, the British Treasury and the BSA Company shareholders had been the principal beneficiaries of the royalties. However, the Zambians were willing to make a gesture of goodwill. They would contribute £2 million. It was a drop of £48 million in two months.”
The Zambians, mainly through Mike Faber and Robert Oakeshott, piled on the pressure by releasing a White Paper, the result of months of research.
Hall said: “Written in a style which contrived to be at once elegant and fierce by a former Financial Times staff man who was part of the Wina entourage, the document indicted both the BSA Company and Britain through a close examination of events from 1890 onwards.”
A spokesman for the BSA Company described the White Paper as “propaganda” which must have been music in the ears of both Faber and Oakeshott who went on to become influential economic advisers to Dr Kaunda after Independence.
Two former public schoolboys from the heart of the English establishment were close to the decision making process in a government about to become a leader of the Commonwealth, a prominent participant within the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and a key member of the African Frontline States in the war against white rule in Southern Rhodesia (under Ian Smith) and later on, the fight against the South African apartheid regime. Of courses, their loyalty to Zambia was never in doubt but it is only now that their value to Dr Kaunda and UNIP is being recognized – though their roles in the humiliation of the BSA Company in 1964 were touched upon in Andrew Sardanis’s “Africa- Another Side of the Coin” (I.B. Tauris, 2003).
AND SO IT WAS that Arthur Bottomley, Britain’s Commonwealth Secretary, took a plane to Lusaka accompanied by the BSA Company representative, Paul Emrys-Evans. Bottomley was delighted to be the first Labour minister to represent Britain at an African independence festival.
Legend has it that when he stepped down at Lusaka Airport Bottomley said Dr Kaunda –“ My word, Kenneth, its nice to be in Gambia.” That night a reader of the news in the Kitwe studios of a local radio station referred to the arrival in Lusaka of “Mr Arthur Commonly, the Bottomwealth Secretary.”
Britain offered £2 million to the BSA Company if Zambia would provide the other £2 million, making it all just a paltry £4 million compared to the original asking price of £50 million. But the Zambians would not accept Britain’s offer. They insisted –and Hall explains – that this would be contrary to their position that London must accept responsibility for payment and that that their own £2 million was nothing more than a gift. Bottomley considered flying back to London to seek advise from Harold Wilson but was told over the phone to accept what the Zambians had proposed.
“Later that evening, as 1,200 tribal dancers were performing under arc-lights in the stadium, one of Wina’s radical economists arrived, bearded and wearing sandals. Besides the main stand he found a huddle of journalists discussing their stories for the next day’s papers.”
The bearded economist (Richard Hall failed to say it was Mike Faber) drew from his pocket a piece of crumpled blue paper. On it, hand-written, were the terms of a statement prepared by a group of officials. ‘The basis of an agreement has been reached . . .’ A few more undramatic phrases pronounced the death warrant for the dreams of Cecil Rhodes (after whom the two Rhodesias had been named) for the company which had ruled a region seven times the size of Britain.
“Soon afterwards, Zambia was born. A flame was lit and £5,000 worth of fireworks were set-off. In the centre of the fireworks was a vast set-piece reading “Kaunda.”
Robert Oakeshott and Mike Faber looked on and, of course, joined in the applause.
First published in Cold Type in Canada, The Bulletin in Zambia and Politicsweb in South Africa